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WOSTER: Lost memories of graduation

My little sister played "Pomp and Circumstances'' as I walked with other members of the Class of 1962 to seats in front of the stage to start our commencement ceremony.

I don't remember that. I found my '62 Cub, the high-school yearbook, in a box a few weeks ago. When I opened it, a copy of the commencement program fell out. It says Mary Woster played the processional and the recessional. Only "Pomp and Circumstances'' would be appropriate walking-in music, right?

It's surprising how little I remember from my high-school graduation, considering how many times over the years I've heard speakers tell young people, "These are the best years of your lives.'' Best? Could have been, I suppose, but having a family and a career is hard to beat. In fact, during my career as a reporter, I once interviewed a high-school senior from Pierre. When I mentioned that some people called high school the best years of your life, she said, with a look of alarm, "Oh, I hope not.'' Not that she hadn't enjoyed her time at Riggs High. She just figured even better years lay ahead.

I know from the program that juniors Lorraine and Larry led the seniors in, Robert sang a vocal solo, Ruby played a cornet solo and the boys' octet, the mixed chorus and an instrumental trio (Jo Ellen, Barb and Sally) offered various musical stylings. I see that Doc Mueller, the school-board president and my family's dentist, awarded diplomas, and I know Linda gave the salutatory address and I did the valedictory.

I don't remember the songs or what Linda said when she spoke. I remember little of my address, although I've not forgotten the panic of discovering, part way through the speech, that two typed pages were missing. I made an awkward transition over the gap and finished sooner than originally planned. I don't know if anyone noticed the fumble, but I'll bet folks were happy with the length of the message.

Brevity in speaking is nearly always a virtue, even if it comes at the expense of a couple of pages of text. I learned that from my big brother, Jim. He spent his career working for the Sioux Falls Stockyards. That meant he was out in the pens and alleys starting about 4:30 in the morning, day after day. Somehow, he started making the evening speaking circuit, and he became pretty popular. I asked him his secret once, and he said, "Be upbeat, be sincere and, most of all, be brief. People appreciate a speech if you wrap it up before they start checking their watches.''

I was so nervous before my speech that I couldn't concentrate on the program. The upside, I suppose, was that I didn't sit there pondering the future, wondering if we'd all "go our separate ways from here,'' or whether "we'll always be together,'' or any other things high-school seniors wonder. I sat there in a puddle of perspiration.

My folks were somewhere in the audience — in the bleachers or on the folding chair behind the rows of graduates. I suppose they were proud, worried, happy and sad, the way parents are supposed to be at a commencement exercise. I don't remember them being there, but I remember feeling all those emotions years later when my kids graduated.

My clearest memories from high school commencement involve things like how, before we moved downstairs for the procession, Barb went around sobbing and hugging. I remember Bill cracking jokes, Lee fiddling with the knot in his tie and Mike, perhaps the brightest of us all, muttering under his breath as he shifted his tassel from one side to the other, practicing for the moment on stage when he'd do it for real. And I remember him walking off stage with a diploma but without having switched his tassel.

I remember hurrying home from Brookings for my little sister's graduation two years later. I don't recall who played the processional, who spoke or any of that. I remember sitting far back in the bleachers with tears in my eyes. That's a good enough memory for any commencement.

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